Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Panama - Marina Life

S/V Aspen – December 15, 2009 – Log #22
Position: 9 degrees 22.1’ N 79 degrees 57.0’ W
(Cristobal/Colon, Panama)

It is the dry season, finally, in Panama. That means that the deluges that are called rain only occur less often than every day, as in November. The temperature hovers around 95 degrees with 98% humidity though. Remember, we are only 9 degrees or about 550 miles north of the equator.

Aspen is tied onto a nice floating dock here in Shelter Bay Marina, Panama. This is in the middle of the abandoned US Army base that used to be the vast expanse of Ft. Sherman. Now this area is a huge national park and the jungle has reclaimed most of the land around us.

The wildlife here is impressive: parrots, monkeys, snakes, el gato solo (some weird looking cat-like creature), leaf cutter ants, wild pigs, capybaras (very large rat-like things), birds, panthers, and even salt water crocodiles.

We walk throughout this area without worries because there are heavily armed Panama military guards that surround the perimeter of the old base. It seems that Panama doesn't want any more destruction of what is left here.

The old base is lost in a time-warp. The buildings are crumbling and abandoned while the jungle reclaims the land at will. After the US gave the Canal to Panama on December 31, 1999, the local governments fought over the land and since no one could win they just looted everything in sight.

So here we are, in the middle of the jungle, aboard Aspen, with strange creatures all around us, connected to the internet. Isn't this great?!?

Steve runs on the abandoned roads far and wide. One of the roads heads north and west to the river called Rio Chagres. This river was the richest in the world long before the canal was built. The Spanish explorers used the Rio Chagres to transport Inca gold and silver from the Pacific side to be loaded onto ships that waited on the Atlantic side, bound for Spain. Billions of dollars worth of gold flowed down this river. Even gold from the California Gold Rush came down this river headed for New York.

At the Caribbean entrance to the Rio Chagres stands a fort named Fort San Lorenzo or Castillo de San Lorenzo that dates back to 1592. It was built by the Spanish King Philip II only 100 years after Columbus arrived. The run up to this fort is spectacular!!! The old army road winds through the jungle with monkeys screaming from the tree-tops and unseen things making noises in the jungle all around. The fort sits atop a high bluff and guards the river entrance. It was at this spot that pirates like Sir Francis Drake and Sir Henry Morgan fought the Spanish for control of the riches flowing from Panama.

The run to the fort is nearly 7 miles one way but the rewards are without equal. Standing on the same spot that the conquistadors and pirates tread was humbling. Even today the mighty Rio Chagres is vital to Panama as it provides the Panama Canal with the necessary water to open and close the huge locks!

We are awed by the historical significance of Panama. The ghosts of The Camino Real, Portobello, Balboa, and even Bolivar are forever linked to this strategic country.

Maria keeps Aspen in great shape for the sailing adventures that lie ahead. Grocery shopping is always an adventure as you could imagine. There is a shuttle bus that departs twice a day from the marina that takes sailors to the nearest grocery store, about 30 minutes away. The store is well stocked and the prices are the best we have seen in the Caribbean. There are even lots of US brands to choose from. Knowing Spanish really helps when you are ordering meats from the meat counter! We found that our Spanish is pretty rusty but we are getting lots of practice using it again. The real adventure is getting the groceries back to the marina and aboard Aspen.

The road to and from the store passes next to and across the Panama Canal via a very small one lane bridge. This bridge is moved out of the way when ships are using the locks. Ships have priority so we can sit at this little bridge quite a while waiting to cross. At least we see the huge ships go by as we wait.

The bus that transports us is a small model that holds 25 people. Once you leave the grocery store to return to the marina, you have the same 25 people inside PLUS lots and lots of groceries. The bus also transports sailor's gas cans, propane cylinders and diesel jugs back to the marina. You can probably imagine what this bus looks like careening through the jungle on horrible roads loaded with gringos who are guarding their precious food and leaking fuel containers! The driver is oblivious to all the chaos going on behind him as he tries to avoid running over the snakes and animals that are trying to share the road with him. Every day is an adventure down here!

There are more pictures posted on the blog if you are interested.

Sail on sail on Aspen…

Steve and Maria

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